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A National Award – An Idea We Should Steal From the Brits

A former Member of Congress recommends establishing a national award for keeping a civil tongue in one’s head during political discourse.

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A National Award – An Idea We Should Steal From the Brits

Incivility in politics is not exactly a new way of life. Four years ago, a PBS poll said 80% of Americans were concerned that the lack of civility in politics had the potential to lead to violence. The upcoming three-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 events at the U.S. Capitol just around the corner makes us all markedly more anxious.

“We’re choking on outrage,” said Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University, on NPR. “It’s like the way we’re spewing CO2 into the atmosphere.”

Little noticed on this side of the Atlantic is the reality of what can and did happen. Two Members of the British Parliament were killed while on the job.

For elected officials, visits with constituents are the lifeblood of the job. The meetings help you address problems vexing local officials or everyday citizens. And, obviously, the practice pays dividends when election season rolls around.

So it was in the fall of 2021 when Sir David Armess walked to his office in Leigh-on-Sea, a city of 22,000 in Essex on the southeast coast of England. Waiting for him was a constituent, Ali Harbi Ali, upset with Middle Eastern politics. Minutes later, the member of Parliament was dead after getting stabbed more than 20 times.


Just five years earlier, another member of Parliament, Jo Cox, was murdered on her way to a similar meeting. This time by a right-wing fanatic.

“It used to be the tradition where you could walk up to a member of Parliament and have a chat. Now you would be mental to allow that to happen,” said Sir Eric Pickles of the House of Lords. “You now want to know who the person is. You want to have an agreed exit plan with your staff, and all that kind of thing.”

After those two tragedies, several British foundations gathered to try to cool the nation’s political temperature. They knew they couldn’t change the zeitgeist overnight, but they could single out leaders as role models who were trying to depolarize rhetoric and drive consensus politics.

“We had quite modest expectations about the effect it would have on behavior change and part of it was just symbolic,” said Ali Goldsworthy, who helped spearhead the creation of the National Civility Award in Politics. “We wanted to honor people who have reached across divides in a very polarized time in the U.K.”

You would be hard-pressed to find a more divisive issue in the U.S. than abortion. But the decision to leave the European Union, colloquially known as Brexit, was even more polarizing.


In the end, however, one of the leaders of the pro-Brexit movement, M.P. Steve Baker, was chosen for the award because of the message he delivered the night his side won.

“Typically, when you win, you want to go and celebrate and have a big shebang party, but Steve instead opted for a quiet glass of champagne at home and struck a conciliatory note,” said Goldsworthy.

“I very much regret the division this country has faced,” Baker said the night his side won the vote. “I very much regret the sorrow of my opponents that they will feel. I look forward to working with them tomorrow.”

When was the last time you heard an American politician assume that tone?

Now in its third year, the British Civility Award singles out political leaders across the political spectrum.


“These awards are a small attempt by a group of people in public life – of different and no political persuasions – to shine a spotlight on politicians who argue their case with decency and civility, and are able to engage with people across the divides that threaten to scar our country,” said Labor Peer Lord Wood.

Will a similar award save American politics?

Not on its own. But embracing role models who believe in civility and collaboration can be an excellent first step.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

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Scott Klug is a former Republican congressman from Democratic Dane County in the purple state of Wisconsin. His storytelling podcast “Lost in the Middle: America's Political Orphans” premiered in September.

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